I took some of my students to see "The Ides of March" last night. The film was considerably better than I'd been led to believe from some of the reviews. The performances were excellent. The basic story line about ambition and betrayal was quite solid and compelling. I thought the title was a bit of a misnomer: we didn't see anything quite like the assassination of an emperor. Instead, the film reminded me somewhat of "City Hall" (1996), which showed how the routine transactions of politics can lead to tragedy. This film much more capably showed how relatively minor events -- campaign sex, beers with a rival, forgetting which cell phone is yours -- can lead to major catastrophes.
Somewhat unfortunately, the main villain in the film is ambition. Ambition is, of course, a very desirable trait in politicians, but it can admittedly be unpleasant to observe, and just because something is, on the whole, good for a political system doesn't make it good for personal human interactions. Place this film alongside "Primary Colors" as a solid study of the dark side of ambition in the context of presidential nomination politics.
So, on the whole, I'd recommend the film. But it had a number of pretty glaring (to political geeks like me, anyway) inaccuracies that I feel compelled to mention.
- Following in the tradition of "The Contender" (2000) and "The American President" (1995), "Ides" imagined a liberal, idealistic politician who was supposed to be both inspiring and electable, yet whose policy stances put him way outside the mainstream. Clooney's Morris was an atheist, promised to eliminate the internal combustion engine within a decade, and pushed for two years of mandatory national service from 18-year olds. I'm sure these seem like mainstream stances in Hollywood, but a quick glance at easily-available polling would have shown just how fringe these views are. Or they could have run the script by one or two political geeks. We work cheap.
- The film imagined a scenario in which Republican voters, led by the likes of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, raid Ohio's open Democratic primary to cast strategic votes for Morris' opponent, apparently because they consider Morris the more electable Democrat. This is not completely impossible, but given that the Republican nomination contest was still undecided, it's hard to believe that Republicans wouldn't want to weigh in on that race instead of trying to tinker with the Democratic one.
- Morris believed he had suppressed the intern scandal when he took on Stephen as his campaign manager. But the scandal is going to come out anyway! The police who noted Molly's drug overdose surely also noted from the prescription labels that the drugs in question came from a nearby abortion clinic; an autopsy will confirm a recent abortion. The clinic will note that the abortion was paid for in cash, and at least one nurse there might recognize the man who accompanied Molly to the clinic as the campaign manager from all the recent TV and newspapers stories. In other words, it won't take a terribly gifted reporter or investigator more than a few days to determine that right before her death, Molly had an abortion paid for by the Morris campaign. That's already fairly damaging, and probably more will come to light after that. (You think she's the first intern he'd slept with?)
These little inaccuracies and holes are hardly fatal for the film, but they could have been thought through a bit better. Still, given the relative paucity of films about primaries, go see this anyway.